Chris Balenovich is the Manager of Football Media for the Toronto Argonauts. I am super excited about my chat with Chris because as a fellow communications professional, I can deeply relate to and learn from his insight. The job of managing communications and media for a football team is extensive, multi-directional and all-encompassing. Chris Balenovich parsed through his day-to-day as the Manager of Football Media for one of the most well-known Canadian Football League (CFL) teams. I have a lot of favourite parts from our conversation. Butif I have to choose one to highlight, it was hearing about what Chris says was his best career (change) decision. If I tell you what that changed involved, you may skip out on reading Chris’ breakdown of a typical day as the MAnager of Football Media, notable achievements, favourite parts of his job, and more [grins]. So without further ado, I give you my in-depth and insightful conversation with the gregarious, insightful and humble sport public relations professional that is Chris Balenovich.
Please note: The interview with Chris Balenovich was conducted via a typed conversation. Editing changes were made to make it easier to read while maintaining the voice of the interview.
As Manager, Football Media for the Toronto Argonauts it is my job to deal directly with the media and those who cover the Argos on a regular, semi-regular or occasional basis, whether that be media giants like the Toronto Sun, TSN, the Canadian Press, Toronto Star, CBC, etc. or smaller outlets like local newspapers, blogs, Latin TV networks or student journalism. I am the intermediary between the media and the organization so if they want to do a story or sit down interview with a player or staff member they will organize it through myself and I will work to make it as comfortable and accessible for both the player and the media member as possible. All communications that come from the team and go out to the media or public come from myself, so news releases on player signings, personnel changes, community and gameday initiatives, new corporate sponsorships and so much more, will be written by myself and communicated out to our distribution list.
I work directly with my colleague Mike Hogan, who is the play by play voice of the Argos as well as a walking Argo encyclopedia. He writes amazing content pieces for the website and helps out with media relations duties among a million other things. We also work very closely with Adam Krueger, the man behind the Argos social media accounts, who by my biased estimation is the best in the league at his job. It is a very exciting and fulfilling job and I am beyond lucky and blessed to be able to do it every day.
I have two types of days during the season. Practice days and game days.
My day on practice days starts at about 8:15 a.m. where the team and staff gather at BMO Club at BMO Stadium to eat a breakfast buffet together. From there the players head to meetings and I head to my office across the parking lot at Coca-Cola Coliseum. The next couple of hours are spent getting everything needed for our game on the weekend ready, replying to emails, setting up any interview requests or appearance requests that come in for players or staff. Some of the things I am working on are Games notes, depth charts, flip charts (both team’s depth charts on one page with detailed rosters on the backside), press box seating chart, press box and photo room meal orders, writing all the gameday passes that are needed for any media/broadcast/special guests who are coming to cover or work the game. At around 10:30-11:00 a.m.
I will start my walk over to Lamport Stadium in Liberty Village for practice. I need to attend practice because media members show up to watch in order to get more insight into the story they are writing. There are also rules around what parts of practice the media can film so I need to be there to make sure everything is copacetic in that respect. Being at practice and around those media members covering the team helps me build relationships with them which is so crucial in this business and one of the biggest things I learned from my Raptors internship.
Following practice, we hold a media availability back at BMO Field where the media requests players or coaches they would like to speak to about the stories they are writing that day. Following availability, it is a lunch buffet back in BMO Club with the team and staff and then back to the office to carry on the work I was occupied with before practice.
Game days are a lot different. I show up at the stadium about four hours prior to kick-off. I head to the press box where I set up the laptops for the CFL stats crew, put up signage around the room, load the fridge with drinks, make sure everything is looking neat and tidy, chairs are tucked in etc. TSN brings me mics for players who will be featured on that week’s CFL Wired segment, those mics go to Equipment master Danny Webb who secures them to the player’s shoulder pads.
Getting closer to kick off TSN will come in the locker room with cameras to get shots of players taping up and stretching for their pre-game show so I am there to point out the guys who they need and to make sure it all goes smoothly. Sometimes TSN will do a pre-game interview on the field with a player so I will need to help make that happen. During the game, I fluctuate between the sidelines and the press box. If I am in the press box, I am continuing to build those relationships with the media members, checking if anyone needs anything, but I have a wonderful press box assistant, Corina, who runs the show up there and does an amazing job.
We do sideline interviews at halftime with a TSN sideline reporter, always Matt Scianitti for home games, and then again following the game but only if we win. Coach has a post-game press conference in front of the media and cameras following every game before we open the locker room for the media to enter and interview the players they have requested to talk too. I hang around each interview to make sure it is going smoothly and to cut it off if it starts to drag on. Our players are amazing and true professionals in front of the camera, so I rarely need to worry. Once the media clears out, my night is done but I usually stick around for a bit to help the equipment staff clean up the locker room.
I have been obsessed with sports my whole life; watching, playing, reading, just consuming it all. It is all I cared about. Growing up I played hockey, basketball, soccer, baseball, volleyball but when I got to high school I “specialized” in soccer and football.
Sports are where I learned some of the best life lessons I or anyone will ever learn. I learned how to work well with others, how to be a leader, how to be a follower, how to communicate with teammates and coaches, how to handle adversity and so on. I played football for a year at the University of Ottawa before transferring schools to a non-football school. Still to this day probably the biggest regret of my life. I didn’t think I would miss football at the time, I was young and didn’t understand how important sports/football was to me.
The thing I missed most was the locker room, the camaraderie with the boys, everyone working towards the same goal but little did I know I’d get all that back years later in a different way. So I originally set off to school in 2007 to be a teacher, I wanted to be a high school teacher, and in 2012 after a four-year undergrad and a year of Teacher’s College, that goal came to fruition when I gained employment as an occasional teacher with the Niagara Catholic District School Board. I knew pretty early on teaching wasn’t going to be for me, I didn’t feel passionate about it. So, after four years of teaching, I decided to go back to school at age 28 for a Sport Business Management grad certificate. It was the best decision I have ever made. F
our months in class followed by a four-month internship. This is when I knew a job in sports was going to be for me. I was lucky enough to get a media relations internship with the Toronto Raptors, often lauded as the best media relations team in the NBA. Shout out to Jim LaBumbard, Roven Yau, Phil Summers and Stefano Toniutti for teaching me a ton in a relatively short time. I tried to soak everything up like a sponge. It was probably the best five months (I was extended for playoffs) of my life. An amazing experience that proved to me I made the right career move. Three years later I am loving it just the same.
I would have to say there are two [notable] achievements.
The first one happened less than three months after I started with the Argos. I was hired in September of 2017 and in late November we were hoisting the Grey Cup in a blizzard at TD Bank Stadium in Ottawa. You can’t ask for a better start to your career. Some people wait years, decades to win a championship while others never get a chance to experience it. I was lucky enough to come on at the right time and cross that one of my lists very early on. We received our rings in May of 2018 to put the cherry on what was an incredible, unforgettable experience.
The second accomplishment is more of a personal one. I was on a contract when I was first hired that ran through December of 2017. MLSE bought the team shortly thereafter and subsequently, there was a big turn-over of personnel and I wasn’t re-hired until May of 2018. I was being brought back in to be the number two guy on the media relations team for the Argos. The idea was to bring in a more experienced media relations employee to be my boss but that never came to fruition due to extenuating circumstances.
Dave Haggith, Director of Communications for MLSE, decided to put me in charge and told me he had full faith in me. Keep in mind I had 5 months of internship experience and three months of real paid-work experience at this point in the field. It was season chock-full of learning experiences, mistakes, triumphs, ups, downs, twists and turns but there is no better way to learn something than being thrown right into the fire. The next season was a lot easier because of everything I learned from the previous season and this year I hope to take the next step towards becoming the best media relations professional I can be. Betting on myself and taking the bull by the horns when I was given the opportunity was one of the biggest accomplishments in my career thus far.
The offseason for me is more of a 9-5 job. Things really slow down as all the players leave to go back to their homes in the U.S. or around Canada and most of the coaches do the same. This is finally the time we can take some time off, go on vacation, relax a little bit from the grind of the season that is usually 6-7 days a week with no chance to take any time off. There are minimal media requests during the offseason, but we are still signing players, making personnel changes, implementing community initiatives so there are plenty of press releases that need to go out. Things start to pick up in February when free agency opens up, then there are combines in March, the CFL Draft in April and then training camp in May, which is by far the busiest time of the year for me. So, we have plenty of time in the offseason to get everything ready for the following year, plan things out so when training camp comes around and the wheels hit the ground we are prepared and ready to go.
There are so many cool parts of my job. I often joke that I get paid to watch football. I told you the thing I missed most about playing football was the camaraderie with the guys and everyone working together towards one common goal. I get all that back working this job. I am in the locker room constantly around the players, talking to them, working with them. I work together with the front office. All the other support staff are so great to be around, and everyone gets along really well and every single person in the organization is working towards one singular goal; to win a Grey Cup. If I had to pick one thing though, I would have to say flying around and experiencing Canada during road games is the best part. Before I started with the Argos I had never been outside of Ontario or Quebec in Canada.
Now I’ve been to five other provinces and we are playing in Nova Scotia this season. It is such a cool experience to go to cities like Vancouver, Calgary, Winnipeg, Edmonton, Ottawa, Regina, Montreal, Moncton, and tour around in our off time and enjoy the city. We always go to Banff when we are in Calgary and last year we were lucky enough to be there during Calgary Stampede. When we are in Vancouver, we rent bikes and ride around Stanley Park. Some super cool and fun memories on the road and a perk not afforded to a lot of other careers.
I would have to say I try to model my career after the Raptors media relations team. The biggest thing I learned during my time there was how to run a professional and widely respected media relations team. They know how to treat people the right way and are constantly going above and beyond to make life as easy as possible for the media. There is a reason they are one of only two NBA teams to have won the Brian McIntyre Media Relations Award for best in the NBA multiple times.
They were and still are a huge influence on me. Of course, there are others in my position around the CFL who are great at their jobs too and I like to see what they are doing that works and try to adapt it in Toronto or build off it here. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that I look up to one of my bosses and maybe the most recognizable figure in Toronto outside of Drake, Michael “Pinball” Clemons, the GM of the Argos. Anyone who has ever met Mike knows he can light up a room with one smile and will talk to a complete stranger and make that person feel as if they knew each other for 20 years. He is a master motivator and leader and I try to soak in as much as I can from him.
I am a die-hard Notre Dame fan and I’ve seen Rudy probably 100 times. Classic.
Documentary About two kids from inner-city Chicago trying to live out their dream of playing pro ball and the challenges they have to go through in their everyday life.
Probably for the soundtrack alone.